When a new barrier was installed on the Prince Edward Viaduct in 2003, its reputation as a location people in distress chose to end their lives faded into history, but it isn’t the only bridge that has attracted jumpers over the years.
Just over four kilometres northeast of the now-fenced-in Bloor Viaduct, another bridge towering high above the Don Valley will soon have a barrier of its own, giving persons in crisis time to reconsider, and providing emergency responders valuable seconds or minutes to intervene.
The Overlea Bridge, officially the Charles H. Hiscott Bridge, opened back in September 1960 to carry the boulevard of the same name over the Don Valley and meet the newly-reconstructed Don Mills Road, linking the Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park neighbourhoods.
After over six decades of wear and tear, including the road salt exposure that eats away at all Toronto infrastructure, a reconstruction of the bridge deck is planned in the coming years to maintain a state of good repair, part of the City’s broader Overlea Boulevard renewal project.
This necessary rebuild comes with an opportunity to improve what exists now. Reconstruction allows the city to widen the bridge deck in the process to 24.8 metres, creating the space for new cycling lanes and an improved pedestrian experience, with sidewalks widened one metre and railings that stretch roughly three metres high.
The bridge has been a growing source of frustration for locals, known as a bottleneck where pedestrians are funnelled along narrow sidewalks and regularly subjected to splashes from passing vehicles.
Matters have only grown worse since the pandemic, a student at a nearby high school telling the Toronto Star in 2021 that “3,000 pedestrians cross the bridge daily and that the sidewalks are so narrow there’s no way to physically distance.”
A view from below on Google Street View offers the best illustration of just how high off the valley floor the bridge soars. Factor in the frighteningly low barrier, and it can feel precarious to voyage across this bridge on foot. For anyone experiencing a mental health crisis, the lack of effective barriers has much darker implications.
In addition to the bridge deck’s reconstruction, the project includes several changes designed to improve the safety and traffic flow of Overlea Boulevard between Don Mills Road and Thorncliffe Park Drive.